The Reality of Being Unhoused

By Lauren Morgan, Summer Intern 2018

As I stumbled through the woods on a rainy and sticky morning, I couldn’t get my mind off of all of the bugs that were probably crawling inside my backpack and on my jacket. We were headed to a campsite. I’m usually not one for the outdoors, especially walking through the woods without a trail to follow and tree branches smacking me in the face. “Welcome to the table,” I thought as I wiped raindrops off my cheek. When we arrived, it was as quaint as a permanent campsite in the woods can be, but it was home to someone.

Walking into a campsite, you have to understand that you are walking into someone’s home. The broken shopping cart and bucket by their tent door is the equivalent of an entryway table in a subdivision style home. Their belongings are scattered, but they are exactly where they are supposed to be. It looks like a mess at first glance, but it is a perfect home.

Once I began to see these things, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had seen homelessness before, but walking through someone’s home had a greater impact on me than I thought it would. I felt all of the feelings I was expecting to feel: guilt, privilege, and so many other things I don’t have words for. But I also felt a sense of responsibility. I thought about what I had been told by an outreach worker: these people we serve have voices, so we don’t need to speak for them. We just help amplify it.” I then decided I was put at Open Table to make a difference, and our unhoused friends were there to make a difference in me as well. While I felt a rush of compassion for the people I was meeting, I was also hit with a harsh reality that I knew existed but I didn’t ever want to face it.

In 2013, 29 benches that the unhoused used to rest were removed from the downtown Nashville area. This was to ensure that the unhoused would not be visible on the streets. This succeeded in taking away places to rest, not giving people homes. The 2018 Point In Time count of unhoused people in Nashville was at 2,298. This number doesn’t even begin to cover the other 18,000 living in temporary shelters, their cars, transitional housing, or those who were currently hospitalized or in jail. There isn’t any more time to be forgotten about when you are unhoused. 118 lives slipped away in Nashville in 2017 due to being unhoused. This includes death from illness, extreme weather conditions, hunger, getting hit by cars, and abuse. People are dying just trying to survive another day. It shouldn’t be this hard. There isn’t any more time. Homelessness is not something to be glamorized. It’s graphic, violent, and very real. Things have to start changing now. Affordable housing ends homelessness. Fair opportunities end homelessness.